THE SOUTHERN BORDER PROGRAM INCREASES DEPORTATIONS and RISKS FOR MIGRANTS
In seven months, 92,889 undocumented detained; The U.S. Migra arrested 70,448
By: Arturo Cano, Envoy
To be a migrant one must have good legs and poor hearing. That’s what the young men know who delay in hearing the purring of the train and climb to the roof of the higher building of “La 72,” as Fray Tomás González baptized it –in honor of the undocumented murdered in Tamaulipas in 2010– at the shelter for those without papers that receives hundreds of walkers every day.
The most agile climb to the roof of the house to see whether the train goes towards Merida or leads northward. If the railroad goes “up,” it immediately sets up a race towards the tracks, some three blocks away. The Central Americans know that their possibilities are few: only the youngest and most daring –who must also have acrobatic qualities– achieve climbing onto The Beast. “Sometimes 10 achieve it, other times no more than two or three,” they say at the shelter.
La Bestia (The Beast) used to stop here, but now not only does it keep going, the operator increases its speed until reaching 40 or 50 kilometers per hour.
José Alexander, a Salvadoran, looks at the hubbub calmly. For him, The Beast is not an option. Even so his gaze passes over his entire body, from bottom to top, to launch a resigned breath: “I am no longer able, I am almost 42 years old;” too old to run like that.
If he ever had the idea of attempting it, he abandoned it last Sunday when he saw a young Honduran lose a leg under the train’s wheels.
So, for José Alexander, as for the majority of the migrants that pass through that shelter –the poorest among the poor, without dollars for a pollero–, there is no other alternative than to continue on foot.
The scene “we’re going to try to climb onto the train” is repeated every day, since the government of Mexico put the Southern Border Program (SBP) into effect, announced by President Enrique Peña Nieto on July 7, 2014, for the purpose of “ordering the migratory flow” and “protecting the human rights” of the undocumented.
The real results have been the explosion of deportations and the increased risks for the poorest migrants that, lacking the train, travel the same way on foot.
Mexico, “an arm of the United States”
Fray Tomás González, the Franciscan founder of La 72, lives in the same shelter where he daily takes the pulse of the effects of the SBP. With those credentials he summarizes: “For the migrants, this program has meant persecution, massive deportation and death.”
González remembers the SBP’s key fact: Mexico now deports more Central American migrants than the United States.
According to official numbers, during the first seven months of fiscal year 2015, Mexico detained 92,889 Central Americans, compared to 70, 448 that were apprehended by the U.S. migra. The numbers correspond to the period that goes from October 2014 to April 2015, and were taken from reports de the United States Office of Customs and Border Protection and from the National Institute of Migration.
As the Washington Office on Latin America (Wola) concluded last June, the numbers illustrate that Mexico is now “the principal arm of the United States for impeding migrants from arriving in their territory.”
For Wola, the above data demonstrate, on the one hand, that the so-called 2014 migratory wave continues and that thousands of Central Americans continue fleeing; the difference is that now the majority of them are being “captured in Mexico instead of in the United States.”
The routes and their polleros
Threats are something habitual in the life of Fray Tomás. There is always a patrol outside of La 72; the municipal police during the day, and the state police at night. Soldiers dressed as civilians that are glued to the door and accompany the religious man wherever he goes complete the cadre of precautionary measures that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights dictated in April 2013.
There is no abuse or tragedy that escapes La 72. The religious people, the professionals and the volunteers that attend to the migrants have an exact list of the motives, the times that they have attacked them, the causes of the flight and the abuses that the travelers suffered.
Fray Tomas also has at his fingertips the routes that the migrants use. There are three on this border of Tabasco with Guatemala. One goes in the direction of Escárcega, Campeche, where a network of trailers the coyotes make wait for them. Another passes through the area surrounding El Ceibo, the formal immigration entry gate, where the modern installations built by the Mexican government contrast with the shacks where merchants sell clothes and trinkets on ambos sides of the border. The third, perhaps the most used, runs the 60 kilometers that separate Tenosique from El Pedregal, the first village that the migrants come upon when they cross the borderline.
Until 2013, the migrants were accustomed to entering by boat, six hours on the San Pedro River, which comes from the Guatemalan Petén, and that farther ahead flows into the Usumacinta. They used to arrive in a town known as La Palma, one-half of the distance they now have to travel. But that route ended after an operation in which the Mexican Army detained various Guatemalan boatmen.
The migrants continue crossing, although now the boats leave them on the Guatemalan side. That’s how they arrive in El Pedregal, a pollero town where most of the houses are made of wooden planks and weren’t painted until a decade ago. But, there is a pick-up truck in each patio. Most of the vehicles are old and have license plates from other states. They are part of the trafficking network that the polleros –controlled by Los Zetas, according to what they say in a low voice in this region– have constituted in the zone.
The rates vary according to the number of persons and the mood of the traffickers. They charge twenty pesos for the boat, 200 for a motorcycle ride and between 300 and 350 pesos aboard a car or small truck. Many times they let them out mid-way, with the pretext that the migra is coming, and they toss them out on the road to walk only to charge them again farther ahead. “They are advancing them piece by piece,” Fray Tomas explains on a muddy road close to the line.
Since its arrival, the falcons have watched the group of visitors. The spies don’t disguise themselves: first a young man on a motorcycle and later men aboard three vehicles. A green pick-up truck with polarized glass and license plates from the state of Mexico approaches the group of outsiders without any pretext, a few steps from the borderline.
–Where is the border?
–There, just a few steps away, one of the men responds after lowering the window. But only the Toyotas pass by here, no others –he says in reference to the Islamic State’s favorite pick-up trucks.
His truck is not a Toyota, so that they have approached the place simply to verify the identity of the visitors, which they do without dissimulating. One more vehicle, stopped in the middle of the road, verifies that the outsiders won’t make trouble.
On the return path, while the vehicle advances through the long stretch of dirt road, González explains the Mexican migra’s tactic for capturing the undocumented (“securing” them, in the official argot). The zone is full of pastures and marshes. Thus, the modus operandi of the Mexican immigration agents is “exhausting” the migrants: a convoy of vehicles “drives them away from the road” and they have to walk around through the pastures, the reeds or openly through the marshes. Thus, at the time of detaining them, they are tame bodies because of exhaustion. Those that escape usually arrive at the shelter worn out and full of wounds from the barbed wire and thorns.
They need to make adjustments every day in La 72. This morning, for breakfast, there is only one third of what they ate for dinner last night. The rest has followed their path. If you leave Tenosique at night, it’s possible to see them walking along the side of a highway without a ditch, in small groups, all with their migrant “uniforms:” tennis shoes sewn with thread and small backpacks where they carry their entire life.
Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada
Translation: Chiapas Support Committee
Monday, October 19, 2015